30 YEARS OF ORIGIN WAR

Posted on August 25, 2012


30 years of State of Origin war and rivalry – a story told in thirty parts. New South Wales ‘Blues’ & Queensland ‘Maroons’ battling on ‘Origin’ lines since 1980.

Written by Sean Fagan
[originally published by ARL in State of Origin match program]

DOWN TO THE WIRE. Few Game III ‘Origin-deciders’ have been won in the last quarter. The most recent was in 2008, when Johnathan Thurston set up a late converted try for Billy Slater and 16-10 win. The Maroons won the first Origin series in 1982 after holding out NSW 10-5. In 1987 a scoreless second half left Queensland as 10-8 winners. Allan Langer orchestrated a converted try in the final ten minutes of 1991’s Game III to land the Maroons a 14-12 victory. The following year Laurie Daley broke a 4-all deadlock 15 minutes from fulltime, putting through a deft grubber behind the Maroons defence that was picked up by Paul McGregor and led to a try for Andrew Ettingshausen.

THAT’s MY TEAM. Game II of 2009 produced the unusual occurrence of all 16 NRL clubs being represented amongst the 34 players. The Broncos have had a record 11 players in one Origin game on five occasions (all between 2001-03). Brisbane also has had the most Origin representatives overall with 52.

FROM OUTSIDE THE BIG LEAGUE. It is still possible to select an Origin player from a level below the NRL, but is unlikely – unless you count instances such as the Blues’ Tom Learoyd-Lahrs who turned out for Canberra’s feeder club Souths Logan Magpies (Brisbane) earlier this year. The Blues last bush-boys were winger Phil Duke (1982 – Moree Boomerangs) and hooker Rex Wright (1984 – Newcastle Norths). The final Maroons side to contain non NSWRL/NRL players was Game III of 1987 (including Gene Miles and Wally Lewis from Wynnum-Manly and Ipswich’s Allan Langer).

PRIMITIVE TRIBES. All-in brawls were once synonymous with Origin. Forget the end of Game III last year, for some real Wild West saloon brawling the standouts belong to Game III of 1997 (the ‘cattle dog’ call that included Jamie Goddard swatting Andrew Johns), the MCG’s Game II of 1995 (pre-match the Blues had threatened to respond to any rally-call of ‘Queenslander!’ – it happened at the first scrum, and amidst wild scenes Manly team mates John Hopoate and Danny Moore took to each other, while David Barnhill and Billy Moore brawled their way to the fence and back), and the SCG’s Game II of 1984 (with fireworks still going off in the night sky, both sides forgot about football at the first tackle, with Ray Price and a shirtless Chris Close taking prominent roles).

SON OF A GUN. There have been four father-son combinations over the history of Origin:  John and Martin Lang (both Queensland), Eric Grothe Sr and Jr (both NSW), Steve and Mat Rogers (NSW/QLD), and Wayne and Mitchell Pearce (both NSW).

TOE-TO-TOE. “Nothing wrong with that, two men having a go” declared commentator Darrell Eastlake in Lang Park’s Game III of 1993 – the ‘two men’ were Paul Harragon and Martin Bella who had squared-up, and then thrown punches at each other. While that was going on, few noticed that opposing hookers Ben Elias and Steve Walters were having their own set-to nearby. In Game III of 1995 Tony Hearn stood up to play-the-ball, but decided to head-butt the marker Mark Carroll at the same time – Carroll landed two right-handers on Hearn’s chin before he could respond in kind. Last year’s Origin ended in seething anger after Brett White knocked out Steve Price in their encounter. Ironically, in the most recalled one-on-one in Origin history – between Mark Geyer and Wally Lewis in Game II of 1991 – there wasn’t a punch thrown.

BRAIN EXPLOSIONS. Those of us who merely watch Origin can’t even begin to appreciate what the word ‘pressure’ must mean..and what it can do… Way back in Game III of 1982 at the SCG Wally Lewis was gifted a series-winning try after Blues winger Phil Duke dropped an in-goal pass from team mate Phil Sigsworth. History repeated in Game III of 2006 in Melbourne when a wayward pass from NSW’s Brett Hodgson was swooped upon by Darren Lockyer to take the series. The Maroons Justin Hodges made an inauspicious debut in Game II of 2002, twice throwing wild passes in-goal that gave NSW tries. Jarryd Hayne too produced a clanger in his first Origin game in 2007 – opting to knock the ball back in field near the Blues goal line, it was snapped up by Lockyer for a try.

STILL GOT YOUR ORIGIN SOCKS? For 2001’s Game III series-decider the Maroons coach Wayne Bennett reached out all the way to England, convincing Allan Langer to fly home – it was a master-stroke as ‘Alf’ destroyed the Blues in a 40-14 ambush. A scarcity of five-eighths in the lead-up to Game II of 2004 caused NSW coach Phil Gould to send a SOS to Brad Fittler – the Blues didn’t win that game, but in the series-decider Fittler and NSW got the fairytale ending, winning 36-14. A year later Andrew Johns – one game back from a broken jaw and seemingly done with rep football – was a late call-up for Game II. Johns schemed back-to-back wins for NSW to take the series. Perhaps the greatest comeback of all was the first – Arthur Beetson had not played for NSW since 1977 but there was no way he wasn’t going to lead the Maroons in the first ever Origin match in 1980.

ONE-GAME CAPTAINS. A handful of Origin players have captained their state in just one game. For Queensland: Arthur Beetson (1980), Kevin Walters (1999), Shane Webcke (2004).   For NSW: Tom Raudonikis (1980), Steve Rogers (1981), Peter Sterling (1987 in California).

THE WHITE-WASH.  There’s nothing better than taking an Origin series 3-0.  Mind you, it has been a decade since anyone has done it (NSW in 2000). Despite the Maroon’s early reign over Origin, it was the Blues side of 1986 who were the first to achieve the feat – a big effort too considering two games were at Lang Park. NSW won 3-0 in 1996 using the same 17 players in each game, a year after Paul Vautin’s ‘no name’ Maroons had stunned the league world by winning all three Origin encounters that winter. The standout class though are the Maroons of 1988-89 – they won all six games, and only one of them was a close finish.

THREE-TRY HEROES. Six players have notched up a hat-trick of tries in the one Origin game: Chris Anderson (NSW 1983), Kerry Boustead (QLD 1984), Ryan Girdler (NSW 2000), Lote Tuqiri (QLD 2002), Matt Sing (QLD 2003) and Matt King (NSW 2005). All of them were in winning sides, apart from Anderson who achieved the feat in a Blues team that lost 43-22.

FROM THE SIDELINES. Even with the football nowhere in sight, Origin has shown it is capable of throwing up some unusual moments. The 1993 series began with Channel 9 opting to put a live microphone over the Maroons on-field pre-match huddle, only no one had warned Mal Meninga – he let fly with an expletive-laden rev-up that was meant only for the ears of his team mates. TV producers came in for criticism again in Game I of 2003 when their camera went in for a close-up of Blues three-quarter Michael de Vere having a head wound sealed up by a doctor using a staple gun. Just over a decade earlier in Game I of 1992, the mother of NSW hooker Benny Elias ran on to the field at fulltime to mop up his gaping head wound. Speaking of mums and Origin, after the Maroons scored the series-winning try in Game III of 2002 in Sydney, skipper Gorden Tallis gave the one-fingered salute to Blues fans in response to an offensive sign. Queensland’s Greg Dowling gave NSW and Test coach Terry Fearnley a similar greeting in 1985’s  Game III in the simmering aftermath of the civil war inside the Australian team that had just returned from its New Zealand tour.

BEEN THERE, DONE THAT. Three Blues players have gone on to coach their state in Origin: Tom Raudonikis, Ricky Stuart and Wayne Pearce. For the Maroons six former Origin players have turned coach: Arthur Beetson, Mark Murray, Paul Vautin, Wally Lewis, Michael Hagan and Mal Meninga.

WE WUZ ROBBED! Referees and controversy are never far apart in Origin. Even in today’s era of the video referee, the arguments continue – as the ‘Jarryd Hayne’s boot’ incident from last year’s Game I proves. In Game I of 1987 referee Mick Stone boldly awarded a match-winning try in the last minute to NSW’s Mark McGaw – the Blues centre somehow got a hand on the ball kicked to within millimeters of the dead-ball line. Video backs up Stone, but it also supports the view of Queenslanders that they should have won the 1993 series – a result that ultimately swung on a decision in Game II to rule winger Willie Carne off-side after he had successfully taken a cross-field kick to score a try. And was Billy Slater off-side in Game II of 2004 when he chased Lockyer’s kick, before producing his own kick-and-chase for one of Origin’s greatest tries?

A DRAW’S AS GOOD AS A WIN. Before the introduction of golden point, the Maroons won two series after the deciding final match ended in a draw. As in Ashes series in cricket and rugby league, the holder of the trophy had to be beaten to lose the crown. In 1999’s Game III at Lang Park Blues winger Matt Geyer crossed wide out to make it 10-all – Ryan Girdler missed the conversion, leaving the Maroons as series ‘winners’. In 2002 NSW looked to have won Game III and the series when Jason Moodie’s converted try put the Blues ahead 18-14 with time nearly up. But Allan Langer recovered a short kick-off, and the Maroons Dane Carlaw was quickly over for a try that leveled the scores. Lote Tuqiri missed the conversion, but everyone knew it didn’t matter.

DID THAT REALLY HAPPEN? Amongst the more unusual occurrences in Origin was Greg Dowling’s try in Game II of 1984. Played out in pouring rain on a SCG surface reduced to a quagmire, Wally Lewis put through a chip-kick intended for the Blues in-goal – the ball though rebounded from the cross-bar into Dowling’s arms and he dived over for a try that would have been remarkable on a dry field.

THROWBACKS. In Game II of the 1992 series Lang Park was the scene of a now long forgotten rugby league tactic used to gain territorial advantage – the kicking duel. Lasting near on 90 seconds, it began when Ricky Stuart kicked from deep inside his own quarter. Queensland fullback Dale Shearer caught the ball 30m from his own line, and immediately booted the ball back. Blues captain Laurie Daley collected the ball, and he punted it back to Shearer. Back and forth the ball went, nine kicks in all. Shearer finally ran with the ball when a flying Rod Wishart hurtled towards him from an on-side position.

FASTEST TRY.  In the opening set of Game II in 1999, the Blues opted to shift the ball wide – Andrew Johns spun the ball out to Ryan Girder who in turn shifted it on to fullback Robbie Ross, who raced away for a try with just 42 seconds on the clock. Girdler himself took the record when he scored a try from a scrum just 38 seconds into Game III of 2001.

BEST TRY-SAVING TACKLE. Hard to go past Wally Lewis in Game III of 1987 at Lang Park.  With the series up for grabs and the Maroons ahead 10-8 in what would ultimately be a scoreless second half, Blues centre Michael O’Connor broke clear from half-way. Lewis came across in cover as the last line of defence, and O’Connor confidently stepped infield – but the cunning Lewis, predicting O’Connor’s favoured move, timed his tackle to perfection, heavily knocking the NSW flyer to the ground.

GOLDEN POINT. In the aftermath of the drawn series of 2002 unlimited extra time ‘golden point’ was adopted by the ARL for all Origin games. It was first called into play to decide Game I of 2004 – after just two minutes Blues five-eighth Shaun Timmins kicked an unlikely field goal from 37m to give NSW a 9-8 win at ANZ Stadium. A year later Queensland won in golden point when they took Game I thanks to Matt Bowen snaring an intercept from a pass thrown wide by Brett Kimmorley.

FIELD OF DREAMS. Aside from Shaun Timmins’ golden point clincher in the 2004 opener, field goals have been crucial to winning Origin on a handful of occasions.  Allan Langer kicked his first career field goal to give the Maroons a 5-4 win at Lang Park in Game II of 1992. In the third game of the 1996 series Brad Fittler dropped a goal to put NSW up 15-2, and it proved the difference when the Maroons clawed back to 15-14. Illawarra’s John Simon secured the 1997 series for the Blues with a late one-pointer in Game II to beat Queensland 15-14. Mat Rogers marked his debut with a game-winning field goal (9-8) in the first match of 1999. Johnathan Thurston kicked a field goal in the dying moments to force Game I of 2005 into golden point, where the Maroons won via Matt Bowen’s intercept try.  Brett Finch gained his moment of Origin glory when he sent the ball over from  40m to give NSW a last minute 17-16 victory in Game I of 2006.

BEST TRY? For a team try nothing tops the Maroons last ditch effort to win Game I of 1994 – an epic piece of pure rugby league that swept the ball across and up the field, culminating in Mark Coyne planting the ball over the line for a breath-taking win. When it comes to solo efforts, few rival Wally Lewis’ try at the SFS in Game II of 1989. From 40m out Lewis began an angled run for the corner, beating the tackles of Chris Mortimer and Laurie Daley, then carrying Test fullback Garry Jack over the line.

BEST CONVERSION? With four minutes left in Game I of 2006 Johnathan Thurston kicked a touchline conversion to level the scores at 16-all (the Blues won with a field goal).  The 1991 series was won by a Mal Meninga toe-poke goal from out wide in Game III to land a 14-12 win – remarkably Meninga missed the other seven attempts he made that night. Game II of that series featured the undisputed best Origin goal – from near the touchline, in pouring rain and late in the game, Michael O’Connor coolly kicked the Blues to a 14-12 win.

“YOU’RE OFF! GO!” Despite the wild times of early Origin, it took until Game II of 1996 before anyone was marched from the field, when Queensland’s Paul Greenhill got a ‘coat hanger’ on Paul Harragon. In the first game of 2000 Maroons skipper Gorden Tallis was dismissed after calling referee Bill Harrigan a cheat. In the final moments of the 2009 series the Blues Trent Waterhouse was sent-off for being third-man into the Price-White fight. Of the three send offs, only Greenhill was subsequently suspended (4 games).

MAN IN THE MIDDLE. With 21 games between 1991 and 2003, Bill Harrigan holds the record for most Origins by a referee. David Manson (10) is a distant second. Fearing inter-state jealousies, the ARL appointed neutral referees for the one-off Origin games in 1980 (UK’s Billy Thompson) and 1981 (Kevin Steele from NZ). Don Wilson, another Kiwi, officiated the deciding third game of the 1982 series.

THE LONG AND THE SHORT. Allan Langer has played the most Origins (34), but the record for the longest consecutive run of Origins belongs to Gary Larson who played 24 games straight (1991-98). While there are many ‘one gamers’ in the list of Origin reps, a small absent group are held in ‘Origin limbo’ – chosen on the bench for just one Origin-career game, but never took to the field: Steve Martin (NSW 1980), Graeme O’Grady (NSW 1981), Grant Rix (QLD 1986), Aaron Raper (NSW 1997).

BATTLE GROUNDS. Lang Park (Suncorp Stadium) has hosted 43 Origin games, with ANZ Stadium in Sydney next best at 16. Until the current system of swapping home advantage each year was introduced in 1998, Sydney only twice hosted two games in a series (1988 and 1992). Six games have been held in Melbourne, and one non-series Origin contest was taken to Long Beach in California (1987).

ADOPTED BLOODLINES. Debate rages about the bona fides of some Origin players when it comes to qualification as a Blue or Maroon. The QRL snavelled up Bowraville’s Greg Inglis when he played for Wavell State High (Brisbane), even though he’d already turned out for Newcastle’s Hunter Sports High. What about the Maroons’ Adrian Lam, Tonie Carroll and Craig Smith  who all played for other countries? But let’s not just point to the Queenslanders – just how did Steve Rogers emerge at the  Southport Tigers but turn out as a Blue?

GIMME ORIGIN EVERY DAY. Origin was played on Tuesday nights from 1980 to Game I of 1989 – excepting Game III of 1987 (Wed) and the California game (Thurs). Through the 90s it was a mix of Mondays and Wednesdays, until in 1998 Origin moved to Fridays.  Since 1999 Origin has always been on Wednesday nights, apart from 2001 when Sunday games were trialed. Origin has never been played in the daylight, nor on a Saturday.

FROM FAR AWAY LANDS. The Origin concept was centred on Queensland calling back players from the NSW clubs. It wasn’t until 1989 that the Blues chose Brisbane-based Chris Johns and Terry Matterson, followed by Glenn Lazarus in 1992. The first Cowboy selected by NSW was Tim Brasher (2000) and the first Titan was Luke Bailey (2007). Twenty Storm players have been called from Victoria to play Origin (12 by the Blues), four from New Zealand (all Maroons) and two from Perth’s Western Reds (Brad Mackay for NSW in 1995 and Julian O’Neill for Queensland in 1996). Not forgetting, of course, Warrington’s Allan Langer who stunned everyone by coming home from England for Game III of 2001. But that’s Origin…it’s always throwing up surprises…

[originally published by ARL in State of Origin match program]

© Copyright – Sean Fagan

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